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If Anyone Can Save Libraries, Margaret Atwood Can

Bravo to Canadian literary legend Margaret Atwood for waging online warfare against library closings this week. When Toronto councillor Doug Ford floated some made-up statistics about the number of libraries in his district, by way of suggesting that the city could afford to lose a few, Atwood challenged him via Twitter. (And via an equally potent medium: Canadian humor.) Ford retorted that Atwood “should get herself elected to office or pipe down”—the kind of egalitarian attitude toward free speech you might expect from a man trying to squash libraries.

This craziness isn’t confined to Canada. In the NYRBarticle I cited in a recent post, Charles Simic quotes an unnamed U.S. politician as arguing that the Web has replaced libraries. Simic eloquently explains that the two resources provide fundamentally different experiences. He could have added that the “replacement” idea is nonsensical to begin with: if newer presentations of a text rendered older ones worthless, why would libraries house any edition of a volume that wasn’t completely up to date? Why would anyone archive anything at all?

More importantly, as most readers know, copyright and other obstacles prevent large numbers of texts from being fully and freely accessible online. Does Simic’s politician assume public digital libraries already exist? Has he encountered a book, in any format, for the past ten years?

I’ll take a cue from the unflappable Ms. Atwood and stop before I waste words in indignation. Her Twitter campaign has temporarily halted—she’s taking a break to get some writing done—but the past week’s glories can be revisited here. For further evidence of her calm, dry wit, as well as an explanation of her Twitter philosophy, I recommend this clip from her 2010 Big Think interview.

[Image via Wikimedia Commons.]


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